Just a couple of days ago, I cranked out a farewell post for our university’s first official blog, Visions. Hitting the “publish” button was essentially flipping the kill switch for this blog.
Visions began as a grand experiment for our office. We started it in February 2006 as a tool to showcase campus research. At the time, it seemed like the logical step in our efforts to promote our campus’s research activities. We had been doing a quarterly e-newsletter about research (which few people opened and fewer read), and this blog you’re now reading was a few months old. Blogging was starting to gain some notice from the higher ed community. A co-worker had been reading Seth Godin’s ideas about flipping the funnel — turning our “funnel” systems into “megaphones” that fans could use to shout our messages. We knew the current system — that quarterly e-newsletter — wasn’t working.
And so these ideas about blogging and from blogs converged. We pitched the idea of creating an official, university-sanctioned research blog to the higher-ups.
The reception was tepid. They weren’t convinced that blogging was the right thing to do. It was an alien concept to them. They worried about staff time — Would it be diverted from more credible pursuits, like writing press releases? — and the whole idea of interacting with the audience — What if we received negative comments? How would we handle those?
We assured our bosses that we would screen the comments before posting, and judiciously edit if necessary. We also assured them that our productivity would not slacken.
So we got the go-ahead, created Visions, and proceeded to blog with vigor. Abandon, even.
But then, you know, things got kind of busy. The blog became an afterthought. We started posted less frequently. Facebook happened. Other projects got in the way. We ran out of steam.
Our productivity — on the blog — did fall off. For the entire year of 2010, we logged a mere 45 posts . That’s 75 percent of the quantity of posts we pushed out there the first two months of this experiment. Before Sunday’s post, we had posted a grand total of one time in 2011 (back in February).
What happened? Where did our grand experiment go awry?
A number of circumstances converged to push this project down on our priority list. When our campus began a fast push to change our name, our department was front and center, and pretty busy with that project from October 2006 through much of 2008. Some of our energies were diverted toward new blogging initiatives associated with that project — a blog about the name change, another blog designed to further promote and build buy-in for the new name and one about an alumna-astronaut who was blogging from the International Space Station.
Furthermore, new advances in microblogging and social networking diverted our attention from Visions and toward Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.
Finally, we looked at the analytics and saw that our flipped funnel just wasn’t working. The numbers of visitors have stayed flat to an average of 30-35 a day over the past couple of years. The commenting has also been quite low. Even as we push our posts through social media in an attempt to draw more visitors to the site, it’s been a zero-sum game.
Internally, we’ve talked about pulling the plug on Visions for months. It took a long time for me to muster the courage to write that final post.
William Faulkner advised writers of fiction to kill your darlings. I think that advice can be applied to any pet project, including blogs.
One big takeaway from the recent social media workshop I attended last week (and blogged about) had to do with applying the lessons of evolutionary biology to social media. In evolution, the organism that best adapts to change wins. Social media is evolving. Just as in 2006, our efforts to promote our university’s research to certain audiences evolved from e-newsletter to blog, so today it is evolving into something else.
So, Visions will remain online for a while. Will it be missed? Judging from the lack of response to our farewell post, a virtual tree falling in the virtual forest, I’d say not so much.